US senator helps unite Indian family separated by Covid-19 travel ban
An Indian family separated due to the recent travel restrictions in view of the Covid-19 cases in India was united over the weekend because of the personal efforts made by a top Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
Software solutions architect Ashu Mahajan, who is on H-1B visa, travelled to India on April 17 to see his ailing father just days before his death on April 21 from Covid-19. But before he could return home to New Jersey, new pandemic restrictions went into effect forcing the closures of American embassies and consulates located in India.
As a highly-skilled immigrant worker with an H1-B visa, Mahajan is required to have his passport reviewed and stamped at an American embassy or consulate before travelling to the US, but that the earliest he was told he could get an appointment was in February 2022.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
“Having the family separated for so long would not only be a tremendous hardship—it would jeopardize the very job that makes Mahajan’s H1-B status and his family’s life here in America possible,” Menendez, who is Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters at Scotch Plains in New Jersey.
“I’m incredibly proud of my staff in New Jersey and in Washington with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for working together to bring Mr. Mahajan home. They reached out to the State Department. They made clear all that was at stake in this case, and they successfully secured an expedited appointment at our embassy in New Delhi so that he could get that passport stamp and board a plane back to America,” Menendez said.
Menendez was joined by Mahajan along with his wife Neha and two daughters, 15-year-old Sanaa and nine-year-old Aishi, at the press conference near their Scotch Plains home to announce his safe return.
“When I was leaving for India, I knew my dad was sick. I was still debating whether I should go or not. If I go, I knew I would have visa issues, but still, I took that decision because it was related my dad,” said Mahajan.
“While he was in the hospital, I was not even thinking about visa issues. After that, it hit me that I would be separated from my family for more than a year. At that time, I told Senator Menendez I became so pessimistic about everything, whether this is going to happen or not. But thanks to Senator Menendez and his team they have been reassuring us all this while and showing us directions on how to go about this,” he said.
“We really want to thank Senator Menendez and his staff. If it were not for his support and his office’s support, I don’t know when I would see Mahajan,” said Neha Mahajan.
“When the girls would see him. Every night we spent on two different continents, my girls would ask me, ‘When is daddy coming home?’ And I really did not have an answer for them. Yesterday was probably the first night when I saw him and I was able to sleep in peace because during a pandemic we are all going through a lot. And immigration related matters are the last ones that you need to impact and keep us separated,” Neha told reporters.
Hundreds of Indians on H-1B visas have been facing similar situations as a result of the travel restrictions imposed on those coming to the US from India.
The Mahajan’s have been caught for nearly a decade in the immigration backlog after they legally immigrated to the US through the H1-B visa programme and applied and qualified in 2012 for green cards, Menendez’s office said.
Their youngest daughter, Aisha, is an American citizen, which was a factor that the US State Department considered in expediting her father’s case.
“Ironically, had the family received their green cards and permanent resident status in a timely manner, Ashu Majahan never would have faced his predicament because he would not have been required to get his passport stamped before travelling home to New Jersey,” said his office.